Sweet potato and black bean quinoa salad with roasted red pepper vinaigrette

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'Tis the season for salads, and salads have been what's for dinner most of the time. Boy have we been taking advantage of the opportunity to throw together whatever's available and appealing in the fridge at the end of the day. Creating a colorful mosaic of varied textures and tastes--it's at once creative outlet and a bit of lazy cop-out. This summer has been a lot like our salad fare: rich, vibrant and a little bit haphazard smorgasbord. Weeks have flowed together in a blend of busyness and whimsy. There hasn't been a whole lot of room for pause, even when actually stopping to smell the flowers--but when those odd moments of extended breathing do hit, often on a bike, run, or standing at the kitchen counter, they've tended to pack a punch of meditative thought that feels in the moment like epiphany. Here, a few of those mini bits of wisdom that have come floating out of the universe under the hot sun or over the cutting board. *Note to anyone reading (and let's be honest, Mary, I'm really talking to you--chances are I'm already embarrassed for even writing them down.

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1. One of life's most depressing truths can also be the most freeing, when we manage to get hold of the right perspective: We have only one life (I *think*), and eventually everyone is going to die. If this seems ridiculously morbid for a food blog, think Snoopy...all the other days, we won't. 

2. Catch yourself before drowning in comparisons. We aren't privy to the innermost journeys of others. And beyond that, when it comes to competition, it really doesn't exist. There is healthy internal drive to do our best and make the most of our precious lives, and there is insecurity and anxiety that insists on measuring success in comparison to others. 

3. On a much, much lighter note, a salad is whatever you decide to call salad.

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Once we branch away a bit from the iconic image of greens and crisp raw veggies on a plate, there's a whole lot of blurriness. Cold salads, warm salads, salads consisting of a base of whole grains. Of the latter, typically we serve the same components up in winter--with a few slight seasonal tweaks--only hot, when we call it stew. I do love these, and this is one of them. 

As seems to be the way this summer, it's almost not worth writing this up as a recipe here. It's all about the dressing. Sweet and rich roast peppers blended with warm, aromatic spices like smoked paprika. Just throw together cooked quinoa, or whatever grain you choose, with whatever vegetables and beans you like. I love the sweet potato, tomato, and black bean combo myself. Serve warm or cold.

There's a lot of philosophy to wax on about with salad as your springboard. Dress up the basics, stamp your own style, and just play. Most importantly, choose goodness that works for you. 

Sweet potato and black bean quinoa salad with roasted red pepper vinaigrette

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (approximately 1 cup dry)
  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into cubes
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 4-5 cups baby spinach or mixed greens, washed and patted dry

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup roasted red peppers, homemade or jarred*
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

*To prepare the roasted peppers, place 2 red bell peppers sideways on a lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Roast in oven at 450 degrees approximately 40 minutes, turning midway. Remove from pan and cover with foil. Let cool approximately 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove stem and seeds and cut into quarters.

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Place sweet potatoes on a large sheet pan and coat lightly with cooking spray; sprinkle with a little salt and pepper t taste. Let roast for 15 minutes; turn with a spatula and roast for an additional 10-20 minutes or until desired tenderness.
  2. While sweet potatoes are roasting, prepare the dressing: place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adjusting seasonings to taste.
  3. Place quinoa in a large bowl and add remaining salad ingredients. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture and stir to evenly coat.
Wendy McMillanComment